• Debbie Salter Goodwin

Lessons from a Carpenter


We don’t make much of Joseph. He comes into the first Christmas scene only briefly. He was engaged to Mary and obeyed an angel in a dream to take her as his wife. He took Mary to Bethlehem because he had to register in the census. He accompanied Mary when Jesus was first presented at the temple. He arranged their escape to Egypt when baby Jesus’ life was in danger because of Herod’s cruel decree. He arranged their return when danger was over. The last time we hear about him, he and Mary are looking for Jesus when he was missing on their return trip from a festival visit to Jerusalem. Most of the time it is Mary’s thoughts that are recorded, but it is Joseph’s actions that set the scene.


Joseph became known as Jesus’ father. Does that mean that the village never believed the outrageous story of Mary’s supernatural pregnancy? Does it mean that Joseph never explained himself?


People knew Joseph as a carpenter, a man who worked with wood. Joseph knew about the strong and defined grain of olive, the orange bark of Jerusalem pine, the pungent scent of cedar and how it planed well without splintering. He knew how to measure and cut and miter. Whether he made tables and chairs, wagons and fences or carved his own creativity into bowls and utensils, we don’t know. We simply know that Joseph was a carpenter, a man familiar with wood.


There is something honest and vulnerable about a man who works with his hands using the raw materials from God’s creation. It makes him a co-creator with God. What an interesting thought as we look at Joseph taking Mary as his wife, understanding that she is pregnant by God’s innovative action and is not tainted by immoral behavior. It was his first leap of faith, but what a leap!


He is called righteous because he let God’s right ways lead him at every turn. Joseph is a bold model for the obedience that reminds us how important it is to follow God quickly and specifically, no matter how difficult the journey. Joseph never tried to control his circumstances because He knew that God had embedded something into the grain of his journey. Just as he would not work against the grain of wood, he did not work against what God had ordered.


We come to Christmas as something like carpenters before a fresh piece of wood. If we create something God never intended out of a simple stable, unexpected visits, and the mysteries of its continuity; we will leave Christmas without the gifts God intended we receive. We work against the story, not with it.

Like Joseph, we need a new commitment to obedience. We need to be ready to change our plans when God points in another direction. We need to be less tied to the Christmas we want and more connected to the Christmas God has already given. While predictability may escape us this season because of the pandemic, Christmas should not. Stand with Joseph, silently attentive, wholly committed, ready to do whatever God asks. Become the wood in the hands of a Master Carpenter. Let God help you create the Christmas celebration you didn’t know you needed.



Pictures: Brandon Kaida, Clem Onojeghuo, Pixaby

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